Monday, December 15, 2014


3. We all know the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, and that he has two sisters, Mary and Martha, but in your book, those three characters take on a life entirely different from the Biblical versions in a way some people, particularly Evangelicals, would be offended by. I don't want to give out any spoilers, but are you adding your own politics to this book?

Well, we've been politicizing religion and the life of Jesus since Jesus walked the earth. In more recent times, the Bible has been used to justify slavery, to justify the oppression of women, to oppose interracial marriage, and even now to justify discriminating against gay people. Those things don't mesh well with what I see as the "bottom line" message of Jesus: judge not and treat others as you would like to be treated.

My narrator often grapples with what he thinks at times might be a "lax" uncle--he considers his uncle's refusal to stone the adulterous woman, however, and uses that as a benchmark by which to measure his own actions. "God desires mercy," is a line that comes up repeatedly. So Joseph at times struggles to use his uncle's life to guide him in his own actions.

But in his own life Jesus himself was a political character--he was quite anti-establishment, and for this he was crucified. He criticized the Pharisees for forever adhering to the letter of the Law rather than the spirit of the Law. It's okay to heal on the Sabbath, for example, for that's the greater good. Many of the Pharisees--and certainly not the Sadducees--did not like Jesus because, in their minds, he was just another rabble-rousing troublemaker from the Galilee, a place of bandits and rebels.

As a gay Christian, which I know will be an oxymoron to some folks, it saddens me to see a message of love, hope, joy, and freedom turned into precisely the kind of behavior Jesus rebuked others for. But my narrator, Joseph, tries teasing all of this out, trying to figure out what's ethical and moral behavior and what isn't and how one decides. I won't give away his answer. People will have to read the book!

But as I said earlier, there's very little in the book that doesn't have a real source or story or tradition behind it somewhere. Here, I drew on two. First is the Secret Gospel of Mark. (Folks can look that up if they want.) There's an undeniable homoerotic element to one account in that gospel that appears to derive from the Lazarus story, so in my book, I wrote it this way: Lazarus is confounded after being brought back to life and asks Jesus if he can't spend the night with him. At first the disciples just figure, "Well, he's been dead and might be afraid he'll die again, so he wants to be near the Lord in case he needs to be brought back again." But in the morning when the two men emerge from the room together very late, they can't help wondering if something else had been going on. This offers Jesus a platform from which to speak to the issue of homosexuality--because the canonical gospels, of course, don't say a thing. In his usual fashion, he tells them two stories to illustrate his point. He also uses this as one more opportunity to teach about the nature of sin.

The second source derives from well after the time period in question but is still intriguing to me because it does seem to indicate that gay marriage was accepted in the earlier Church. So, Jesus' story in my book, the story he tells of the two Roman soldiers, derives from this. I'll just link to the source itself, here.

I'm aware all of this might anger some people, but on the other hand, I think ethics challenge us to continually ask, "What's the greater good?" in any given situation.  Since homosexuality is a present-day hot potato political issue, it would have seemed cowardly to me to not address it somehow.

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